Tag Archives: clarity

help people see how their help can help.


That’s how much our church owes the bank.

It’s a mortgage. We doubled the size of our building a few years back, with classrooms and offices and youth space and a gym. The people here did a great job of seeing what they needed and planning it and raising funds.

But this isn’t a story about the building. It’s a story about the number.

We are in the middle of a capital campaign. On the first Sunday of the campaign we wanted to tell the story clearly and simply. We wanted to tell the amount.

In early drafts, we talked about the fact that we had said $1.3 million in one place and $1.2 million in another. As we started to decide which it was, we agreed that the best thing to do–the simplest line to draw in the sand–was the loan balance as of the Friday before.


And so we showed that number on the screen, read it a couple of times. It’s a long number to read.

It’s also a very powerful number to show to a group of people who are all ages and socioeconomic levels. I didn’t understand how powerful until I watched the video.

Sitting still, listening to my own voice, I realized that if we had said that we were raising $1.3 million, most people watching would have struggled a bit with how much they could give, how much their little bit would matter.

As soon as we needed $144.44, everyone could see that they could help with at least forty-four cents. Everyone. Even the person with only two quarters in their pocket.

When you have a big project, see if there’s a way to simply describe it so anyone could say, “my little bit matters.”


If you are curious, here’s the video.


Sometimes vague doesn’t help.

I was driving on the Indiana Toll Road. I stopped for coffee. Since I was there, I stopped in the restroom, too.

restroom sign Apparently, someone was cleaning somewhere. That was a good thing. The sign, however, didn’t say much more than that.

“Man or woman porter in one of three restrooms.”

Someone is somewhere.

I laughed. I knew I needed a picture. I wondered what would happen if someone caught me taking pictures in the hallway to the restroom.

No one did.

And I went on my way unchanged.

I know. An ambiguous sign shouldn’t change me. And yet, I had noticed the uncertainty introduced into my life by this sign. And I realized that I need to pay attention to what I say in a way that will remove ambiguity from my audience.

(See? I can’t help myself. Let’s try again. “I need to be clear.” Much better. Okay. Back to the post.)

In several conversations since I saw that sign, I have been just as vague. I tried to tell people when my boss/colleague’s birthday was. I tried to tell Nancy several things. I tried to explain ideas at a conference.

Every time, I felt as ineffective as the sign.

Someone is cleaning somewhere.

You know what the problem is? I try to be vague. It’s ironic. It’s subtle. It’s easy. It’s lazy.

And it doesn’t work.

You know what I mean?


Nancy and I try to walk every day. During the winter we walk at the mall. When we go walking before the stores open, we can safely put our coats on the many benches in the common area. When we go in evening, before the stores close, we put our coats in lockers.

Have you looked at lockers in a mall? Have you looked at the handle, at the instructions, at the need to list both the amount of money AND the denomination of coins necessary? Have you noticed that there are parameters on the front of the locker and instructions inside?

Have you noticed?

One of my three words for the year is focus. And even as I write that I think, “focus is one of three words?”

I need more than one word. But one of them, particularly this year, has to be focus. I need to identify what matters and then look closely. I need to pick that one function that I’m going to help people understand, that I’m going to understand myself, and then focus on it.

In order to protect your belongings you need a locker. In order to use the locker you need to know the cost and the procedure. In order for this to work, someone needed to focus on it and make it so simple that people in malls and bus stations and airports could somehow use these boxes.

I want to have that kind of focus so that others can have that kind of access.

And I’m curious. What’s your focus? What do you want to make clear to others?

8 ways to make caramel corn making clearer.

I spent part of the day making caramel corn. I do it around Christmas occasionally. I do it because it is a fun gift to give to people at the office. It increases our dental insurance premiums.

Here’s what I learned today about recipes. I’m applying it to caramel corn. I think they apply to lots of other recipes we give people.

1. Design recipes for the ignorant, not the expert. Recipes are written for people who use them all the time. People who use recipes often don’t cook all the time.

2. List the ingredients in the order used. A recipe lists what goes in and then describes how you put the stuff in. When the order of the first part is different than the order of the second part, it is confusing.

3. Use real-world measurements. The recipe I used called for a cup of butter. Butter and margarine don’t come in cups (except for “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”). They come in sticks. So write the recipe for a stick of butter.

4. Use real-world tools. The recipe called for me to put the coated popcorn into a greased pan to bake it. But it didn’t tell me what that meant, greased. Did the writer want me to smear lard on the pan? Couldn’t the writer have said, “spray the pan with a thin coat of non-stick cooking spray”? (Which is what I did).

5. Warn people about dangers. With this recipe, you boil sugar. When you do that, if you let it get too hot, the mixture will burn and taste bad. Liquid sugar burns and sticks to the skin.

6. Tell people about the cool stuff. When you add baking soda and vanilla to the molten sugar mass, the combined liquid starts to foam. It turns into tan shaving cream or the meringue on the top of lemon meringue pie. It is such a cool transformation. I’d show you a picture, but you only get about 5 seconds to watch before you pour it on the popcorn.

7. Tell people what the acceptable variance on measurements is. For example, because the recipe said 1 cup of butter rather than 2 sticks of butter, I used one stick of margarine. It worked better than versions of this recipe have ever worked for me. Apparently, it’s a cup of butter, plus or minus half a cup.

8. Don’t criticize unless you can do better. Here’s my version. What’s missing? What doesn’t work?


Caramel Corn

To make this you will need popcorn, butter or margarine, brown sugar, corn syrup, salt, vanilla extract, and baking soda (not powder). It will also help to have non-stick cooking spray. You will also need an oven, measuring spoons, a measuring cup, a wooden spoon, a large metal container, a pan and a timer of some sort.

1. Find a container that is metal and big enough to hold 6 quarts of popcorn. It can be a big bowl, a foil baking pan, or even, in a pinch, a couple of cookie sheets.

2. Spray your container with a light coat of non-stick cooking spray. If you use too much, the caramel corn will be oily.

3. Make popcorn. You’ll need about 6 quarts, which is 24 cups, which is about two bowls in a Back to Basics PC17589 Electric Stir-Crazy Popcorn Popper. Put it in your container.

4. Turn the oven on to about 200 degrees (25 degrees either way won’t make much difference).

5. On the counter, gather 1 stick of butter or margarine, 2 cups of brown sugar (light or dark), 1/2 cup of corn syrup (Karo is the most common brand. It comes in light or dark. Use either. Generic works, too) and 1 teaspoon of salt. (By the way, a cup is a technical term not just a mug. A teaspoon is also a technical term, not a plain spoon). Those are the first ingredients. You’ll also need to have 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda ready.

6. Take a pan that will hold all of those ingredients and put in on one of the burners of the stove.

7. Turn the heat to low.

8. Put the butter in the pan and watch it melt. When it is almost all melted, dump the 2 cups of brown sugar in. Dump the 1 teaspoon of salt in. Dump the 1/2 cup of corn syrup in. (add all three of these within about 30 seconds).

9. Turn the heat to medium (about 5) and start stirring with a wooden spoon (Could use a plastic or silicon cooking spoon. Don’t use metal. It gets hot)

10. As you stir, the mixture will start to bubble around the edges (boiling). When it starts to bubble/boil, turn on a timer for 5 minutes, set the spoon down, and rest.

11. After 5 minutes, move the pan to a burner that isn’t hot. Within about 10 seconds, pour 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and then 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda into the goo. Start stirring. It will turn from a molten mass (like lava) into brown shaving cream. Keep stirring until it is all the same color.

12. Pour this foamy mixture over the popcorn in the metal container, spreading it as much as possible. Now grab the spoon and stir the popcorn/foam mixture. You won’t get it even, but do the best you can.

13. Put the container in the oven. Set a timer for 10 minutes. When the timer sounds, pull the pan out and stir it again. (Some caramel may end up on the bottom of the container. Make sure you spoon it back on top).  Put the pan back in the oven and set the timer for 10 minutes again. When it sounds, pull the container out and stir it again. Put the container back in and set the timer for 10 minutes again. When it sounds, pull the container out, stir it one more time and then let the caramel corn cool.

14. Wash the dishes. It helps to fill the pans with hot water and about a soup spoon of dish soap and let them soak. It dissolves the caramel.


Dental assisting

I got a crown yesterday. A filling had cracked and it was time to fix it. A couple weeks before I had the bad part done (with incredible amounts of novocaine). This appointment was merely for putting the $700 piece of metal in my mouth.

I walked in and sat down. The dental assistant said, “You have an iPod, don’t you?”

I do. She knows because it is my own pain reliever. I discovered that if I play David Crowder as loud as possible through the ear buds, I can’t hear the drill.

I told her that I did. She asked about charging it. She said that she had gotten the new iPod Skip. (She meant Shuffle). She tried to charge it at home but it kept flashing red. She brought it in to the office but wasn’t sure it was working. I asked where it was. We went to the front desk. She told me she had called tech support who said she needed to stop it before unplugging it. We stopped it. We unplugged it. I asked her about directions. It hadn’t come with any that she remembered. She hadn’t downloaded iTunes. I told her to start there when she got home.

We went back to the chair. I sat down and the dentist came and put the crown on. And I laughed at the fact that I was dental assisting.

I didn’t help much, I’m sure. I can figure out how to do things in the moment. I have an iPod mini (thank you again, Michael). I can run it, I can load songs, I’m listening to Yo Yo Ma right now. However, I don’t have the manual memorized and I have never used the new Shuffle. I can’t tell you how to do the installation nearly as well as I can show you. I can’t tell you all the steps nearly as well as I can help you think through the questions.

And that is the answer, for me, to yesterday’s question. I quoted Patrick Lencioni who has a character in a business fable ask “What is the one thing I do that really matters to the firm”. His character actually identified four things that he had to do as the CEO of a consulting firm: hiring an effective team; providing organization clarity; communicating that clarity; putting in place human systems to continue the process.

The point of the exercise is to identify what you are made to do, equipped to do, gifted to do, shaped to do. Having discovered that one or four things, the challenge is to learn how can you strip away the rest of the activities to focus on that thing. Because if you do that one thing well, even if you don’t get to other activities, you are invaluable to the firm.

For me, that one thing is helping people understand. I am a translator, not of languages, but of ideas. I can find metaphors that can illustrate. I can find threads of meaning. I can create pictures. I do it here all the time.

The danger for me is that I also like to do as part of that helping. I can get caught up in producing the video, in fixing the technology, in sorting through the details.

Here’s why that’s a danger: if I can help someone else understand, then they can do the fixing and I can help someone else understand something else.

I offer that understanding of me only to help you understand the point of the post yesterday.

What are you built to bring to the table, better than anyone else at your table?

Don’t get falsely modest. You know that you are better at gracious truth-telling. You know that you are capable of handling chaos that would drive others over the edge. You know that you can handle details. You can create powerful word pictures. You can synthesize ideas. You can encourage. You can love unlovable people. You can write in 5 words of poetry what other people spend essays to accomplish dimly.

And you are likely the only person with that one thing at your table. There are other poets, but not in your house. There are other synthesizers, but not in your firm. There are other detail people, but they are in other departments or churches or universes.

So what is the one thing or the three things?

And what is it that you get caught in, that keeps you from that one thing or those four things?

And what would it do for your firm or family or friends if you put your energy into doing your one thing or four things as well as you possibly can?

I wish I could have helped the dental assistant more. But I think I helped her understand.

I hope I helped you.

So, let’s try again. What’s are your one or two or four things?


This marks my 575th post. When I started blogging, I read that someone said you couldn’t talk about staying power as a blogger until you had 500 posts. By now, that number is probably higher. Ah well.

I’m just grateful you come by. And have contributed to the more than 1000 comments.

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